Primary tabs

The legacy of harvest and fire on ecosystem carbon storage in a north temperate forest

TitleThe legacy of harvest and fire on ecosystem carbon storage in a north temperate forest
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2007
AuthorsGough CM, Vogel CS, Harrold KH, George K, Curtis PS
JournalGlobal Change Biology

Forest harvesting and wildfire were widespread in the upper Great Lakes region of North America during the early 20th century. We examined how long this legacy of disturbance constrains forest carbon (C) storage rates by quantifying C pools and fluxes after harvest and fire in a mixed deciduous forest chronosequence in northern lower Michigan, USA. Study plots ranged in age from 6 to 68 years and were created following experimental clear-cut harvesting and fire disturbance. Annual C storage was estimated biometrically from measurements of wood, leaf, fine root, and woody debris mass, mass losses to herbivory, soil C content, and soil respiration. Maximum annual C storage in stands that were disturbed by harvest and fire twice was 26% less than a reference stand receiving the same disturbance only once. The mechanism for this reduction in annual C storage was a long-lasting decrease in site quality that endured over the 62-year timeframe examined. However, during regrowth the harvested and burned forest rapidly became a net C sink, storing 0.53MgCha1 yr1 after 6 years. Maximum net ecosystem production (1.35MgCha1 yr1) and annual C increment (0.95MgCha1 yr1) were recorded in the 24- and 50-year-old stands, respectively. Net primary production averaged 5.19MgCha1 yr1 in experimental stands, increasing by o10% from 6 to 50 years. Soil heterotrophic respiration was more variable across stand ages, ranging from 3.85MgCha1 yr1 in the 6-year-old stand to 4.56MgCha1 yr1 in the 68-year-old stand. These results suggest that harvesting and fire disturbances broadly distributed across the region decades ago caused changes in site quality and successional status that continue to limit forest C storage rates.